The United Nations Committee on Information — concluding its forty-fourth session today under the shadow of the tragic killing of yet another journalist in the line of duty — approved two resolutions detailing Member States’ priorities for the Department of Global Communications, from fighting misinformation to helping States protect the fundamental rights to expression and opinion.
Acting by consensus on the final day of its annual meeting, the Committee approved two draft resolutions contained in the report of its forty-fourth session (document A/AC.198/2022/L.3), which was introduced by Rapporteur Darren Camilleri (Malta) and will be forwarded to the General Assembly for adoption.
By their terms, the Assembly would urge all countries, organizations of the United Nations system and others to take a range of actions in support of the free flow of accurate information. Among other things, those included specific calls to ensure the free and effective performance of journalists and resolutely condemn attacks against them, and to increase assistance for communication infrastructure and capabilities in developing countries.
The Assembly would reiterate its concerns about the exponential spread and proliferation of disinformation and misinformation and emphasize the need for all Member States to stand together to address those challenges, including on the Internet. It would also re-emphasize the importance of ensuring public access to information and protecting fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of opinion and expression, the freedom of the press and the right to privacy.
By other terms of the resolutions, the Assembly would call for intensified cooperation with the United Nations system for the effective dissemination of scientific knowledge, best practices and information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and COVID-19 vaccines. It would also support a range of activities and programmes of the Department of Global Communications, from its strategic communications services to its promotional campaigns to its role in peacekeeping and peacebuilding and the work of the network of United Nations information centres around the globe.
Maher Nasser, Director of the Outreach Division of the Department of Global Communications, delivered closing remarks on behalf of Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications Melissa Fleming. He welcomed the Committee’s ability to reach consensus at a time of growing global challenges and rising tensions and divisions, particularly around the war in Ukraine. Thanking delegations for their hard work and flexibility, he said the Department’s work to build support for peace, justice, human rights, equality, climate action and a healthy environment is inspired by Member States’ guidance and priorities. “When these are reached by consensus, that represents the spirit of multilateralism.”
He said the Department is committed to serving as the voice of the United Nations, by providing up-to-date and accurate information, promoting the work of the Organization and its Member States and connecting with a wide range of actors — from the media to youth to celebrities, the private sector and educational institutions. In the session’s general debate, many delegations stressed the need to counter misinformation and disinformation while being a source of reliable and trusted information. “The answer is trust,” he said, emphasizing that the information produced and disseminated by the Department is fact-based, accurate, reliable and unbiased. This year’s report notes the imperative “that we make lying wrong again” and the need to encourage societies to develop a common, empirically backed consensus on the public good of facts, science and knowledge.
Welcoming broad support for the Department’s Verified initiative, as well as the “Pause” and “OnlyTogether” campaigns, he pledged to continue those efforts and to further expand Verified into other relevant issue areas, such as the climate crisis and hate speech. He also welcomed delegations’ significant interest in the Department’s work on a code of conduct for integrity in public information and their “loud and clear” messages regarding the importance of reinforcing multilingualism. Emphasizing the Department’s commitment to that core principle, he said it continues to provide multilingual services in the six official languages, within existing resources, and is working to expand its work beyond those languages to reach as many people as possible.
Prior to approving its report, the Committee observed a moment of silence to honour Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh — who was killed on 11 May in the Jenin refugee camp, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, while reporting for Al Jazeera News Outlet — as well as all those members of the press who have been killed in the line of duty.
Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the United Nations, read a quote by Ms. Abu Aqleh and conveyed the sorrow of the Palestinian people at her passing. He condemned the Israeli occupation for murdering the Palestinian media icon even as she was clearly dressed in a press jacket and called for accountability.
Outlining their views on the contents of the Committee’s report, many delegates also referred to the death of Ms. Abu Aqleh — describing it as a “crushing blow to truth and justice” — and emphasizing that attacks on members of the press are wholly unacceptable. Many called for an urgent, impartial and independent inquiry aimed at holding those responsible for her death to account.
The representative of Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that as facilitator of negotiations on the draft resolutions, the bloc sought to ensure renewed momentum and support for the Department of Global Communications. “We believe we have made important progress in this regard,” she said. She condemned the killing of Ms. Abu Aqleh, calling for an independent investigation into her death. She also made several comments in her national capacity, including advocating for a two-State solution to the long-standing Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The representative of Kuwait, speaking on behalf of the League of Arab States, said Ms. Abu Aqleh’s murder and the wounding of her colleague was only the latest crime carried out by the occupying Power in Palestine in contravention of international law. Calling for an impartial and independent investigation, he said those responsible must be immediately brought to justice.
South Africa’s representative, associating herself with the Group of 77, welcomed that the Committee’s report recognizes the threat posed by the global spread of disinformation and misinformation, as well as the important role played by the network of United Nations information centres in countering it. She also condemned the death of Ms. Abu Agleh and emphasized the important role States should play in protecting journalists and their crucial work.
Cuba’s representative, also associating himself with the Group of 77, said the report contains controversial elements that rightly fall under the purview of other departments of the United Nations. While Cuba joined the Committee’s consensus in the spirit of consensus, that spirit has been tarnished by the murder of Ms. Abu Aqleh. He joined other speakers in calling for urgent accountability for her death.
The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, said the Committee’s report is “adapted to the challenges of 2022”, including by addressing the growing spread of misinformation. Echoing those delegates who paid tribute to Ms. Abu Aqleh, he strongly condemned her killing — just days after World Press Freedom Day — and called for a thorough investigation to clarify the circumstances surrounding her death. “It is unacceptable to target journalists while they are doing their jobs,” he stressed.
Egypt’s delegate, associating himself with the Group of 77 and the League of Arab States, said media outlets remain an important tool for communicating facts, particularly in the current tense geopolitical context and amid the lingering impacts of the pandemic. He joined others in condemning the killing of Ms. Abu Aqleh and called for the launch of an investigation into that horrific incident.
The representative of the United States welcomed the inclusion of language calling for the protection of journalists in the Committee’s report and urged an independent investigation into the death of Ms. Abu Aqleh. Clarifying his delegation’s position, he reiterated its long-standing view that trade language emanating from United Nations system bodies has no relevance for United States policy or commitments.
The representative of Mexico, while welcoming the Committee’s consensus, voiced concern over the length of resolution B. Its 178 paragraphs contain numerous messages and mandates, some of which are carried over year after year, and reflect a degree of inertia that may undermine the importance of the Department of Global Communications’ crucial work. As such, he urged the drafters to take steps in future sessions to shorten the text in an effort to give it the attention it deserves.
Israel’s delegate, welcoming the Committee’s report, said his delegation was also saddened by the death of Ms. Abu Aqleh, which occurred during operations carried out in the wake of a wave of violence against his country. His nation swiftly called for a joint Palestinian-Israeli investigation into her death, but those calls were rejected by the Palestinian side who preferred to act as “judge, jury and executioner” without respect for due process. Nevertheless, Israel remains committed to accountability and to the safety and security of journalists and will push forward with an investigation. He went on to condemn attempts to politicize Ms. Abu Aqleh’s death, including in meetings of the Committee on Information.
Also delivering remarks were the representatives of Indonesia, Iran, Bangladesh, Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Senegal, Iraq and Algeria.